Be the change you want to see

March 26, 2009

Last September, I was in Destin with my family. What began as a verbal skirmish between my brother-in-law and me after a game of Wii Tennis—competition can bring out the best or worst in men—became a full-scale battle that ended with my telling my family that I thought our style of dealing with conflict was unhealthy, insensitive, and passive aggressive. 

I observed that our family nurtured no open dialogue to accommodate hurt feelings. We swept everything under the rug. Hurt feelings often went unacknowledged and were given a change to grow into resentment and bitterness. Rather than give one another the freedom to express hurt feelings, we found ways to mitigate our own discomfort and wounded one another further by saying, in effect, “You’re being hypersenstive. Get over it. Shouldn’t you have moved past that by now?” 

I’m not saying that I was in the right. Deciding who was right or wrong was missing the point. What I wanted was openness and honesty.

The problem with how I often communicate is that I am so adamant about justifying my point of view that I alienate the very people whom I meant to persuade. I have listened as certain street preachers who in a genuine desire to see people come to know the immeasurable riches of Christ spit out caustic rhetoric that scorched the ears and hearts of passers-by. The pendulum swings, and we wound the very people who wounded us in an effort to convince them that wounding people is wrong. We kill people to save them. Before he became Charlemagne, Karl the Great conquered the Franks, and he gave them two options—baptism or execution. 

I am very close to my parents and two sisters, and I wanted to enjoy even greater depth and sweetness in those relationships by practicing more empathy and better listening. I probably just sounded pissed off.

I went to my room, got down on my knees, and I prayed, “God, give me a word. Give me a ray of light.”

I listened for awhile, and He spoke in that strange way of his that is sometimes the sound of wind in high branches and sometimes the quiet presence of an old friend, but this time was like something overheard from across the room. I almost missed it. He whispered, “Be the change you want to see.”

I need to talk less about what I wish were different and instead kneel before the Father and ask Him to transform me into a sensitive, empathetic son and brother who listens well without scrambling to protect myself.

Be the change you want to see. 

Leo Tolstoy had this epiphany long before I did: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Gandhi, too: “We must become the change we want to see in the world.”

Do you wish the people in your life did a better job a taking care of you? Do you want to receive more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

Stop focusing on what you cannot change—other people. Start focusing on what you can change by the grace of God—yourself.

Be the change you want to see.

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